Sener Sen is an unforgettable actor whose characters are etched in our memory whether he plays the lead or a supporting role.
Sener Sen is one of the family. That is because we still laugh uproariously at reruns of his early comedies-Hababam Sinifi, Tosun Pasa, Sultan-even though we know the lines by heart, and because in the more serious later films-Zugurt Aga, Muhsin Bey, Eskiya-or in the television series Ikinci Bahar, the characters he incarnates touch us to the depths of our hearts. And also because he never puts on airs, but is always genuine. Watching him is like meeting up with an old friend who is still as close as ever despite the intervening years since our last get-together. Sener Sen says that in each film he tries to forget everything he knows, that an actor by himself means nothing in the cinema, which, he says, is a team effort. And here he is again to talk to us about the projects he believes in.
Since Muhabbet 92 you've been away from the stage for 12 years. But starting in December we'll be able to see you in a musical called 'Mucizeler Komedisi' (Comedy of Miracles). What is it about this musical that excites you?
The project itself. Just as the scenario is important when choosing a film, so here the text struck me. It's a lot of fun, an entertaining show, and with its special effects a big production. I thought I'd enjoy working in it.
Are you going to sing?
I'm not much at singing, but there are some real singers in the cast. Like Özlem Tekin and Mirkelam. And even though it's not Meltem Cumbul's profession, she has a fine voice. In this musical I mainly join in where the words to the songs are spoken rather than sung.
The characters you've played are like a reflection of the socio-economic change taking place in this country. And in the musical you're a media mogul. Is this a Turkish version of Citizen Kane?
Not really. The musical has a story line all its own. Primarily it's meant to entertain. But in making people laugh, why should we miss an opportunity to make them think as well? The production incorporates socio-economic criticism too. There are allusions to the relations between the media and people, or rather between people and the system, and to relationships that have to do with feeling. The character I play, Sefa Yurdakul, comes from the countryside, but by collaborating and using hardnosed methods has acquired amazing power, become a real media czar with his television channels, newspapers and magazines. Strange things happen to him, and two angels are sent down to make this bad man good. It's a musical which is thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time.
You were the most unforgettable supporting actor until in 1984, with Namuslu, you switched to leading roles, and from comedy to serious parts. Do you think it's important to play the lead?
It didn't matter a bit to me. And when I was working at the Municipal Theater I wasn't at all impressed by the movies. Now and then, as a sideline, I'd play bit parts in films, as part of the dancing crowd, for example, or someone sitting in a coffeehouse, or the guy who gets beat up by the mafia boss. But in 1975 Arzu Film offered me a job playing Badi Ekrem in Hababam Sinifi (The Rowdy Class), and a new phase began. The first offer for a lead came from the late Ertem Egilmez, also at Arzu Film. He wanted me to play a shrewd hick as a lead, something I was used to anyway from my supporting roles. But I said that if I was going to play leads I'd make my own choices from now on, and just take part in projects that appealed to me. That's how Namuslu came about. The project wasn't something the audience had expected of me up till then. Later it was followed by Degirmen, Muhsin Bey, Selamsiz Bandosu, all the way up to Eskiya (The Bandit)...
After Eskiya you didn't make another film for eight years. Now we'll be able to see you again in 'Gönul Yarasi' (The Wounded Heart). It seems to me that you especially enjoy working with Yavuz Turgul: Sultan, Çiçek Abbas, Zugurt Aga, Muhsin Bey, Gölge Oyunu, Eskiya... Does Turgul have you in mind when he writes? There are projects where Yavuz has thought of me, and others where he hasn't. For instance I know he was thinking of me when he wrote Zugurt Aga. And it was clear I'd be playing in Eskiya. The same with Muhsin Bey. Of course no one knows my limitations better than Yavuz. I'm sure he had those in mind, too.
When will we get to see your new film Gönul Yarasi?
The showings will start in January. This time I play someone from Istanbul, a primary school teacher working out east. He retires, and the film starts with his farewell address.
If I'm not mistaken you also had some experience teachingIf you could call it that. I worked three years as a teacher, from 1964 to 1966.
You're very successful at portraying characters from out east. Like Ali Haydar in Ikinci Bahar (Second Spring) or Baran in Eskiya. Could there be a connection with the observations you made back then?
Of course that had some influence. I belong to that soil. Originally we're from Adana. And I've come up through the school of hard knocks. I grew up in a squatter town. I was a factory worker, a driver, a street vendor. I worked in marketing and teaching. And I think my powers of observation are espcially keen. It's not enough just to be in a crowd. You have to have the eye. Back then there was no thought of acting, but unawares everything was being etched in my memory. And when the time comes it all emerges.
As an artist your political side doesn't predominate, yet when we look at the films you've made there's always a message.
True, because that's life. You can't keep life separate from social matters, they just naturally work their way into the script. But I hate to do it with slogans, or knocking the spectator over the head.
Yavuz doesn't like that, either. A natural approach is better, saying just as much as life itself demands.
We've seen you in comical roles, and as sad characters like Ali Haydar and Baran. In all the parts you play, there's something very Turkish, that touches us where we live. What's your secret? Is it improvisation?
I don't know. We don't really have much to do with improvisation. Everything is mapped out ahead of time. And the preparatory phase lasts a long time. We know more or less what we're going to do. For example we work using an approach which is unusual, one which people don't generally know about: We run rehearsals before the shooting. With Eskiya we went overboard on this: The preparatory phase took almost a year. And there's another thing I should say-the project is highly important. There should be a field where the actor can strut his stuff, show off his talents...
You're one of the most popular people in Turkey, but you manage this through your work alone, without appearing in the media. This has to do with my character.
That is, where you come from affects how you behave. There's a life style imposed on people by the system or by the society, and I reject it. I don't want to live that way, because it won't make me happy. Of course I know what my status is, but I make no effort to be mentioned or seen apart from my work. I make an appearance, or speak out, only where necessary.
You've made us very happy with your films. And you have lines and facial expressions that make me smile even if I see them 50 times. What about you? Are you happy with what you've done?
I love my work. One reason I'm happy is that I love my work and take pleasure in it. And I feel lucky to be in a line of work that suits me. Especially since I started playing leads I've been able to make my own choices; I've done projects that appealed to me, not whatever was offered. What more could I ask?
TEXT: BAHAR KALKAN
PHOTO: KURTULUS GÖKALP
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An Honorable Bandit Sener Sen
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